What causes a book to be banned? Throughout history, banned books are often those that push boundaries, lead us to question the way we live and reveal uncomfortable truths. By banning them, schools, libraries, governments and other institutions are affirming the power of written words and the ideas they express.
“So this is the little lady who started this great war,” Abraham Lincoln once said of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And while not every banned book incites civil war, you might be surprised how many do make the list, even in a country dedicated to protecting the freedom of the press. You also might be surprised by how many of these titles you recognize and have read:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn & The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Books written by Mark Twain deal frankly with race and include words that have fallen out of favor since the time of publication. These two books continue to be banned by school districts across the country, unsure of how to deal with the delicate matter of verbiage.
The Catcher in The Rye
This JD Salinger book is one of the most taught books in American schools, and also the most frequently banned. The book deals with sexuality and vulgarity, as well as smoking, drinking, and cursing at a young age. Taught because of its ability to speak to adolescent readers through its young, articulate narrator, the book is frequently banned for its rejection of both education and authority.
George Orwell, a liberal who was skeptical of any government which infringed on basic human rights, wrote this book out of frustration with both the capitalist and communist systems. While its political content remains ripe for discussion, the book was banned by many different school districts for even suggesting that both systems had room for criticism.
Vladimir Nabokov’s story of lust and torment found its way on to many banned lists by detailing a man’s love for an underage companion. While banned from many schools, the novel found outright refusal to be published in England, France, Argentina and New Zealand.
These five books are an irreplaceable part of the American canon. Each year, we celebrate Banned Books Week to remind us how literature pushes boundaries, makes us think.
How has edgy literature affected your life? What books have opened your eyes to new topics and ways of thinking?